Lawmakers shoot down school vending bill

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The same day President Barack Obama announced the creation of a task force to fight childhood obesity, Utah lawmakers again shot down a bill that would regulate what could be sold in school vending machines.

The Senate Education Committee voted 2-4 against a new version of SB49 on Tuesday morning. The new version would have required companies contracting with schools to only supply them with vending machine drinks and snacks meeting certain nutritional guidelines.

"The bill is an important strategy for lowering the rate of childhood obesity and lowering the health costs of childhood obesity," said Robert Harrington, with United Way of Salt Lake Young Leaders. "As a parent, I teach my children healthy eating habits and to make healthy choices in life. These lessons are undermined when they go to school and can buy candy and soda pop from a vending machine."

A number of other parents and speakers also pleaded with lawmakers to set guidelines. Others, however, disliked the new version because it would have mandated certain guidelines, taking the decision away from local districts.

"Just because we have vending machines doesn't mean the legislature needs to dictate what can be in there," said Peter Cannon, who spoke as an individual but is also a member of the Eagle Forum and conservative 9/12 Project of Davis County. "Let's be Americans again. Let's be free. Let parents give the guidance."

Most lawmakers on the committee voted against the bill, saying they didn't want to mandate what children eat.

"I feel like we're taking the responsibility away from mom and dad here," said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City.

Bill sponsor Sen. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake City, said she's not yet sure whether she'll try to bring the bill back for further debate this session. The version debated Tuesday followed an earlier version that would have merely suggested schools follow certain guidelines. That bill was jettisoned in favor of the new version.

Only 18.2 percent of Utah middle and high schools did not sell candy or fatty, salty snacks in vending machines in 2008 -- the lowest percentage of 40 states surveyed, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obama's task force will work to make recommendations on how to provide healthier food in schools, among other tasks.